Alden Solovy is the author of Jew­ish Prayers of Hope and Heal­ing , a book of orig­i­nal litur­gy in Hebrew and Eng­lish. In April 2015 he was bru­tal­ly attacked defend­ing women read­ing Torah at the West­ern Wall in Jerusalem, and gra­cious­ly agreed to share his thoughts on recent devel­op­ments at the Kotel here on The ProsenPeo­ple blog. 

A tight shot of col­or­ful notes stuck into a crack in the West­ern Wall illus­trates the cov­er of my first book, Jew­ish Prayers of Hope and Heal­ing. What oth­er Jew­ish image could cap­ture the yearn­ings of a people?

Yet I was warned against it. Sev­er­al pre­view­ers— includ­ing a rab­bi — said that the Kotel no longer rep­re­sents the heart of Jew­ish hopes and dreams. As a de fac­to ultra-Ortho­dox syn­a­gogue, pray­ing at the Kotel is mean­ing­ful to some and exclu­sive of others.

The same debate has come up in the wake of the Man­del­blit Plan, the recent polit­i­cal deal expand­ing the egal­i­tar­i­an prayer plaza at Robinson’s Arch. Sim­ply put, the ques­tion is this: Is the Kotel holy?

Of course it is. No ques­tion. It’s a pil­grim­age site for Jews from around the world. It’s become the icon­ic Jew­ish metaphor for seek­ing near­ness to God.

At the same time, of course it’s not. Sil­ly thought. It’s just a retain­ing wall, the rel­ic of an old thor­ough­fare, a spot mean­ing­less in its day.

Even after being vicious­ly stomped upon in the stom­ach when I helped pass a Sefer Torah to women’s prayer at the Kotel — even after harass­ment and hos­til­i­ty month after month — to me it’s still a place where a spe­cial kind of holi­ness resides, a holi­ness that can­not be tak­en away by misog­y­ny or violence.

As the Man­del­blit plan is tout­ed by sup­port­ers, lis­ten care­ful­ly to the holy” ver­sus not holy” rhetoric. The lan­guage of holi­ness” is being used as a polit­i­cal tool to dis­tract the dis­cus­sion from the deal’s content.

When lead­ers and sup­port­ers of Anat Hoffman’s Women of the Wall say, It’s the same wall,” this is to ele­vate the sta­tus of Robinson’s Arch to that of the Kotel. It attempts to blur the dis­tinc­tion between the loca­tions. The goal is to claim a vic­to­ry at the Kotel itself. When oth­er sup­port­ers say that the stones are not holy,” the intent is to triv­i­al­ize the goals of the Orig­i­nal Women of the Wall.

O‑WOW is led by women who found­ed WOW. They’ve orga­nized to con­tin­ue the 27-year strug­gle for women’s reli­gious expres­sion at the Kotel itself, not Robinson’s Arch. The stones are not holy” argu­ment is aimed at min­i­miz­ing the impor­tance of the spe­cif­ic location.

Both claims run in the under­cur­rent of the proponent’s rhetoric. Using both is ver­bal sleight of hand and a disin­gen­u­ous combination.

One ques­tion is lost in the rhetoric of holi­ness. Does the Kotel mat­ter to the Jew­ish peo­ple? Does the space once vehe­ment­ly reject­ed by the WOW — Robinson’s Arch — have the same emo­tion­al, cul­tur­al and spir­i­tu­al grav­i­tas as the Kotel itself?

The Kotel mat­ters because it’s ours, the icon of our yearn­ings. All of us. The entire Jew­ish people.

Robinson’s Arch is a beau­ti­ful place, but it’s sim­ply not the Kotel. It nev­er has been. And here’s where the lan­guage of the pro­po­nents gets even more interesting:

Sup­port­ers have por­trayed the deal as a mod­ern-day Hanukkah, the hol­i­day com­mem­o­rat­ing the reded­i­ca­tion of the Jew­ish Tem­ple, pro­claim­ing that Robinson’s Arch will, in time, attain the same lev­el of holi­ness and stature in Jew­ish ethos as the Kotel itself. In this third con­tra­dic­to­ry mes­sage, Robinson’s Arch is nei­ther Kotel nor not-Kotel; it’s an unre­al­ized, poten­tial Kotel wait­ing to be claimed.

Togeth­er, here are the three messages:

  • All of the West­ern Wall is equal­ly holy, so Robinson’s Arch is actu­al­ly the Kotel
  • Stones can­not be inher­ent­ly holy, so the spe­cif­ic loca­tion doesn’t real­ly matter
  • Robinson’s Arch is Kotel-in-wait­ing, ready to be sanc­ti­fied by the expand­ed prayer plaza

  • Yes. No. Maybe. All the bases are cov­ered in this rhetoric of obfuscation.

    For detrac­tors, this is not Hanukkah. It’s an epic betray­al. It’s a Jew­ish fem­i­nist Tisha B’Av, the day com­mem­o­rat­ing the destruc­tion of the Tem­ple. It’s the destruc­tion of Jew­ish women’s rights at the hands of oth­er Jews. If the plan is imple­ment­ed, women’s voic­es at the Kotel will be silenced.

    The Kotel is embed­ded in the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness of the Jew­ish peo­ple. The cov­er of my book will stand the test of time.

    Alden Solovy is a Jew­ish poet, litur­gist, and teacher. A three-time win­ner of the Peter Lis­agor Award for Exem­plary Jour­nal­ism, he has writ­ten near­ly 600 pieces of orig­i­nal litur­gy, a selec­tion of which can be found in his book Jew­ish Prayers of Hope and Heal­ing and at www​.tobendthe​light​.com.

    Relat­ed Content:

    Alden Solovy is a litur­gist, author, jour­nal­ist, and edu­ca­tor. He has writ­ten more than sev­en hun­dred pieces of new litur­gy, offer­ing a fresh new Jew­ish voice that chal­lenges the bound­aries between poet­ry, med­i­ta­tion, and prayer. Solovy has taught around the world, includ­ing at HUC-JIR and Pardes Insti­tute in Jerusalem, Lim­mud and Leo Baeck Col­lege in the UK, and at dozens of syn­a­gogues through­out North America.